Just because you live in a flat doesn't mean
you can't enjoy satellite television, we look at the practicalities of
installing a communal STV system.
At a rough guess between a quarter and a
third of the satellite dishes in this country are completely unnecessary.
There's a quite staggering amount of duplication; we've all seen blocks of
flats, covered with dozens of ugly-looking dishes, one antenna can easily feed
hundreds of homes. On a smaller scale, pairs of dishes can often be seen side
by side on terraced or semi-detached houses. One dish can supply both homes
with satellite signals, less intrusively and sometimes more cheaply than two.
All it takes is a little co-operation and forethought; whether you live in a
high-rise block of flats or a house, if you want satellite television it is
sensible to discuss it with your neighbours first.
But where do you begin, once you and your
neighbours have decided to take the plunge? You could always jump in at the
deep end but there's a risk that you will quickly get bogged down with
bureaucracy, officialdom and red tape. It's wiser to seek expert advice first,
and go to a reputable satellite installation company, preferably one who is a
member of the Confederation of Aerial Industries (CAI).
If you're interested in sharing a dish with
your next-door neighbour they will certainly be able to explain what's
involved, and point you in the right direction of a suitable dish set-up. If
you live in a block of flats you may already have been canvassed by
installation firms, by all means hear what they have got to say. They will be
familiar with the various licensing requirements, and with their local
knowledge and experience, be able to suggest the best way to proceed, as well
as giving you some idea of the amount of work and costs involved.
DISHES AND THE LAW
At this early stage it's also a good idea to
acquaint yourselves with the most recent legislation concerning STV
installation; there's a helpful booklet that you should read first, it's published
by the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office. It's called 'A
Householder's Planning Guide For the Installation of Satellite Television
Dishes', and is available from: DOE, PO Box 135, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD9
4HU; quote reference number 91 PLAN 0084.
If you live in a block of flats or an
apartment the next step will usually be to approach the landlord, managing
agent or local authority, to see whether or not it is feasible or indeed
permissible to install a communal or SMATV (satellite master antenna
television), system. If you get the green light, and you live in a cable
franchise area, first refusal to supply satellite TV programs should be offered
to the local cable TV company, otherwise it's back to the installation company,
to set the wheels in motion.
CHANNELS ON TAP
Most flats and apartments will already have
some sort of communal aerial system, for the BBC and ITV channels, this can
sometimes be used to carry the extra satellite signals, though unless it's
fairly new it's more likely the installation will have to be 'over-wired' with
extra cables. In the early days of satellite television most SMATV
installations used a 'channelised' system, where the various channels were
decoded centrally, by a bank of receivers, each tuned to a different channel.
Nowadays, with the increase in the number of satellite channels, encrypted
broadcasts and the promise of more to come, that has proved to be both
inefficient and costly to administer.
The preferred alternative is the 'IF system', where the feed to the individual
flat carries the same type of signals as those coming from a single dish. This
leaves the occupier free to choose their own receiver, decide which channels
they wish to receive, and pay their own subscription charges directly to the
If everything goes smoothly, and the various
parties are reasonably well-organised a typical SMATV installation need take no more than a month or two, from
start to finish. In the majority of cases disruption can be kept to a minimum
and will normally only involve a small amount of work, replacing or modifying
the cable outlets in each flat.
CASE HISTORY -- LINDA AND STEVE HOLLAND
'My wife Linda and I were beginning to feel
like social outcasts. You know how it is, down the pub the talk is no longer
what's happening in Coronation Street or East Enders, but last night's episode
of Star Trek, the big fight, or more recently, the stuff you can buy on the
shopping channel. Since we live in a small block of flats we've never even
thought of buying a satellite dish, though one or two of our neighbours put
them up, only to be told to take them down again by the landlord'.
'A couple of months ago, at a meeting of the
residents association, someone asked if there was any way we could have
satellite TV installed in our block. At the time no-one knew much about it,
except that we weren't allowed to have dishes, but they decided to investigate
and set up a committee of five residents. A couple of weeks later we all got
letters from the management company explaining that if enough people voted for
it, it would be possible to have satellite TV in our block, the letter also set
out the likely costs of installation and receivers, as well as a leaflet
explaining subscription charges'.
'It all seemed quite reasonable and we
immediately agreed. We later found out that fifteen of the twenty families in
our block had said yes, and that was more than enough to get the go-ahead. Work
began a month later, it took around a week to complete, and the engineer was in
and out of our flat in just over an hour and a half, putting in a new wall box;
he even cleared up after him'.
'We were given the option of buying our
receiver from the installation company, at a good discount, or getting our own.
I spent some time looking through the various magazines and we eventually
decided on the latter option, mainly
because I wanted one that would work with our Nokia TV, using the same
remote control; we've already got enough little black boxes kicking around the
house. We eventually brought the receiver, a Nokia 1700, by mail-order, and we
seem to have got quite a good deal. It came with a viewing card and
instructions on how to get it up and running, it only took around an hour.
We've been very pleased with the picture quality, which is sometimes better
than the regular BBC or ITV programmes which suffers from interference every
now and again. We decided to subscribe to the Sky Movies and Multi-Channel
package and so far we've been really happy with it, so much so that we're
thinking about getting the full SKY package, with the extra movie and sports
BOX COPY -- WHERE TO START
* Start by canvassing support from your
* Organise yourselves, get the residents
* Ask local installation firms for a rough
estimate of the likely costs
* Seek advice on local planning restrictions
* Put your proposal in writing, include as
much information as you can
* Submit your proposal to the managing agent,
landlord or local authority
* Make sure everyone is kept up to date with
what is going on -- a regular newsletter might be a good idea
© R.Maybury 1993 0811